Thailand is a beautiful country with a long, proud history. Of the millions of travellers who flock to its shores every year, only a few end up learning something about the history or the culture of the Land of Smiles. Whether you’ve been or are planning to go, here are some fact you probably didn’t know about Thailand.
Land of the free
The name for Thailand in the Thai language is Prathet Thai, which translates to ‘land of the free’. Whilst neighbouring countries Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos were all colonised by European powers in the past, Thailand never was, which is why it calls itself the land of the free. Your move, USA.
Thailand is home to some great universities and prestigious institutions, but it’s also home to some which are a little more unusual. In Surat Thani, Thailand has a monkey college – that’s right, a college for monkeys. In these institutions, monkeys are trained to perform and collect coconuts, and are rewarded with a huge feast once they graduate.
Home of Siamese twins
Whilst today we refer to twins who are joined together as conjoined twins, they used to be called Siamese twins, named after two twins from Siam, the old name for Thailand. Chang and Eng Bunker were born in Bangkok, before travelling the world in shows as curiosities. They later settled in the US, where they have 22 children between them.
Longest city name
Bangkok – referred to as Krung Thep by Thais – actually has the longest name of any city in the world. Its full title is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit – an un-tweetable 169 letters!
Living in the future
Whilst the year in the west is 2017, in Thailand they use a different calendar. The Thai solar calendar was introduced in 1888 AD by King Rama V, and starts from year 0 in 543 BC – the date Gautama Buddha died. That means today the year in Bangkok is 2560 – though they don’t quite have flying cars just yet.
Birthplace of Red Bull
Originally created in 1976 in Thailand, Red Bull was marketed to blue-collar workers and sold under the name Krating Daeng. Dietrich Mateschtiz, looking for something to cure his jet lag, stumbled upon the drink and went into business with the Thai creator, turning it into a worldwide brand. There are differences in the two drinks; the Thai version is still, whilst the version popularly found in Europe and North America is carbonated.
Born in the USA
The late King Rama IX was loved by virtually all Thais and was actually born in the US, becoming the only monarch in history to be born there. His mother was studying at Harvard University, and so gave birth in Massachusetts. The king later studied in Switzerland, before going on to be the longest reigning monarch in history. He will be laid to rest later this month, and will be missed and mourned by many.
World’s #1 tourist destination
Bangkok has held on to its crown as the world’s most visited tourist destination, overcoming other popular cities such as London and New York in the process. In excess of 19 million tourists are expected to visit Bangkok in 2017, and with plenty to see and do, there’s hardly any surprise that it’s so popular.
Land of islands
Everybody knows the popular islands in Thailand – Koh Phi Phi, Phuket and Koh Samui – but you’d be hard pressed to remember the names of all of them, especially as there are a staggering 1430 of them! From the well developed to the virtually untouched, there’s a Thai island for everyone, and you’ll have to take plenty of trips to tick them all off your list.
Don’t tread on money
Dropping bank notes to see them fly away in the wind can be an annoyance – but don’t even think about stepping on them to catch them. Stepping on money is illegal in Thailand as the notes feature pictures of the late King Rama IX, and doing so would be disrespectful to him as they feet are the lowest part of the body in Thai culture. Instead, pick them up with your hands as soon as possible.
Before any movie will start playing in the cinema, the king’s anthem will play in the cinema and patrons are expected to stand in respect, regardless of nationality. It will also play before sporting events, plays and live music shows. School children will also start the day with the national anthem and sometimes the king’s anthem, and will also bow to a portrait of the king.
Don’t go commando
Before leaving your hotel in Thailand, double check to make sure you’re wearing underwear as it’s illegal to leave the house without it on. It’s also illegal to drive a car without wearing a shirt in Thailand. Sorry folks, you’re going to have to find another way to deal with the extreme heat whilst you’re here.
Land of ghosts
Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Thailand, but ghosts are. Ghosts are widely believed in in Thailand, and form a large part of a person’s daily routine. Thai homes and business often have spirit houses and shrines, where offerings are made to appease the spirits. Thailand also has its share of malevolent ghosts, such as the floating viscera and head of Krasue, and whistling is said to call ghosts to your location.
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